If you are suffering from extended bouts of pain in your jaw, neck and head, it might be as a result of Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). This excruciating condition is caused by issues in the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)—the joint that connects the jaw bone to the skull—and can take some time to heal.
Issues in the TMJ can arise from a wide assortment of factors, including injuries or trauma to the jaw or head. Grinding teeth, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and stress, causing the jaw to clench, can also bring about the pain and discomfort associated with TMD.
TMD can be the result of patterns or incidents that occurred during early childhood or adolescence.
However, TMD can be the result of patterns or incidents that occurred during early childhood or adolescence. To find a solution to TMD and resolve the pain, it may be necessary to investigate the original cause and try to untrain poor habits that may have started early in life. TMD can occur in children, teenagers and adults at any time so, of course, prevention is better than cure. With this in mind, we look at how you can spot the telltale signs that a child or teenager is developing the types of habits that could lead to a lifelong risk of developing TMD.
Even before birth, a baby is learning how to swallow. At around 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy, the muscles in the mouth and jaw are developing as the baby learns to swallow. In fact, the whole face and airways are starting to take shape during this time and issues in the jaw could form this early.
At birth, the baby’s palate should be as broad as the tongue but while in the womb, it may not have fully developed and could be narrow or have a bubble shape which will impact on their ability to feed and swallow. This is known as a condition called tongue tie.
Babies born with tongue tie might struggle to latch onto their mother’s breast for feeding, and breastfeeding has been shown to assist in the development of the jaw too. They may also have difficulty breathing through their nose, causing them to make strange gasping noises that may be very frightening for parents. This difficulty in nasal breathing may create many complications later in life too, so the sooner tongue tie is dealt with, the better for the child.
This issue is such a worry that some countries are now bringing in mandatory tongue inspections on newborns, as they recognize that catching this issue early in life can prevent future health issues. New Jersey and Texas are two American states following this line of thought and are recommending tongue screening at birth.
If screening is not done and the baby doesn’t show clear signs of tongue tie at birth, it may become apparent as they move onto solid foods around the age of six months. Sometimes parents may feel that they have a fussy child who is refusing to eat certain foods, but upon investigation, it may turn out that they are refusing to eat harder foods as they struggle to move it around with their tongue. Using a pacifier, baby bottles or allowing thumb or finger sucking as a baby can have an adverse effect on the positioning of the teeth and cause further issues.
Allowing the baby to eat just soft food, however, is a mistake, as they need to practice chewing a wide variety of foods or they may face a lifetime of problems. The process of chewing helps the muscles of the face, jaw and airways to develop, so if this process is removed, the baby’s face may not grow properly, and they could be at risk for issues such as acid reflux and systemic inflammation in the future.
As a child’s speech develops, signs of tongue-tie may also become apparent. If a child is not talking between the ages of 18 months and two years old, they may have delayed speech as a result of tongue problems. This, in turn, can lead to behavioral issues as the child is frustrated by their lack of ability to communicate.
Untreated tongue tie is a significant issue as stated above, but it may also lead to underdevelopment of the jaw, causing occlusion or an incorrect bite. It can result in nasal and sinus infections and problems in young children which can, in turn, lead to a compromised immune system in later life. Blocked nasal passages add stress to the chest, tonsils and adenoids, causing difficulties breathing and repeated infections.
When breathing issues arise thanks to tongue tie or other problems, this can impact significantly on sleep and lead to bad sleep hygiene. A child who doesn’t sleep well often experiences a knock-on effect on the mental and physical health of the child and may lead to psychological disorders and learning difficulties.
As children move towards adulthood, the habits they form in many aspects of their lives become lifetime patterns. This is true for the oral habits formed at this stage of life that may cause TMD problems.
Adolescents and Teens
Older children who develop habits of biting or sucking their lips, nail biting, or other self-injurious habits such as tongue thrusting, are setting themselves up for TMD pain. Another primary cause is bruxism—otherwise known as teeth grinding. Bruxism can occur involuntarily during sleep or unconsciously while awake. Clenching and grinding teeth can be a result of stress or anxiety. As children become teens, they are often more exposed to stress and may develop this habit without realizing they are doing it.
If a child develops the habit of mouth breathing rather than breathing through their nose, not only does this add to the risk of TMD evolving, but they are impairing the health of their airways and breathing. Illnesses such as respiratory infections, tonsillitis and sinusitis are likely to make their life a challenge frequently. Mouth-breathing may occur as a result of blocked nasal passages due to allergies or enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
Studies done on high school students have shown the prevalence of TMD symptoms in this group is relatively low. However, this does not indicate whether problems will occur later in life.
Breaking the Habits
Even if a child or teenager has habits conducive with TMD symptoms, all is not lost. The sooner the patterns can be broken, and regressive therapies employed to eradicate any damage already done, the quicker the symptoms will disappear.
Dealing with tongue-tie at as early an age as possible is the most favorable time to support facial development in a child. If the child is breathing through his or her mouth, retraining in the correct breathing techniques is essential and, when bruxism is a habit, wearing of dental splints or other orofacial therapies may be required to solve the teeth grinding.
Using biobehavioral methods to correct bad habits is likely to have a more significant, long-term impact. Stress-related and sleep issues may require some psychological interventions to affect the outcome desired. Therapies such as those that encourage good oral posture, otherwise known as the Gopex program will train the mouth and jaw to sit more comfortably without causing extra pressure on the TMJ through training the muscles and helping the face structure to grow correctly. Myofunctional therapy also guides the face along the right path to a pain-free life.
If TMD results from these poor habits, it is necessary to treat the pain and alleviate the stress on the jaw while you are trying to break the pattern. Using the mnemonic HEALS to guide you in self-treatment, may be enough to ease your pain.
HEALS stands for Heat (or ice or massage), Exercise, Analgesic, Lifestyle and Strain. When TMD strikes, applying heat, ice or massage should ease the pain. This, in conjunction with gentle exercises to free up the tension in the jaw and taking some over the counter painkillers (analgesics), will make life more bearable while you work on the lifestyle and stress or strain aspects.
If HEALS doesn’t give you the necessary relief, you may need to seek medical or dental intervention. Simple procedures or therapies may be required to help ease the pain. Occasionally, further, more invasive procedures such as dental surgery will be required. If you are struggling with TMJ pain, speak to a medical professional about your options.
We want you to find relief fast, and so encourage you to act as soon as pain strikes. As TMD doesn’t strike out of the blue, an investigation and remedial corrections to the causes must be carried out as quickly as possible.
Noticing the signs of poor habits in children and remedying them can make a world of difference to their future risks of TMJ disorders. Encouraging good habits and teaching them how to deal with TMJ pain as soon as it occurs helps give them the chance of a life without TMD pain.
TMD need not rule your life or become a permanent fixture if you can break any unhelpful patterns as soon as possible. Some of your childhood habits may need retrograde therapy to overcome, but when you do, it will be easier to avoid flare-ups and pain associated with TMJ disorders. The earlier you identify the causes and treat them, the sooner you will be pain free.